From the Editor: May-June 2016
A storm is brewing
By Marg Land
Tension is mounting in a rural municipality located between the shores of Green Bay and Lake Michigan.
The 20,000 or so residents of Wisconsin’s Kewaunee County are fighting over manure – dairy manure to be exact.
The spreading of manure should be nothing new to this region of “America’s Dairyland.” The predominantly rural municipality is home to more than 300 dairy operations, milking a combined 27,500 cows (that averages out to 80 cows per farm). This represents an economic impact of $65 million to the county. Obviously, there’s a lot of manure being spread over the area’s 175,000 acres of farmland.
But what is new is the way some of the county’s dairy producers wish to apply the nutrients. A special panel led by University of Wisconsin Extension and comprised of academics, state regulators, county-level health officials, farmers and representatives from agriculture industry recently released a report on manure irrigation. The Wisconsin Manure Irrigation Workgroup was formed in spring 2013 and “asked to review a broad set of issues associated with manure irrigation and to develop guidance and recommendations for state agencies, local governments, and citizens seeking to understand this expanding technology,” the report’s executive summary states. A webinar providing an overview of the report and the work done by the workgroup was held in mid-April and a follow-up webinar was held mid-May to answer questions and concerns people had.
According to Wisconsin Public Radio, workgroup members “don’t agree on everything – one even asked to have his name taken off the report – and critics are already saying it doesn’t dig far enough into potential problems.”
Adding more fuel to the flames of county unrest is a recent report by Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Department of Health Services (DHS) stating 11 wells in Kewaunee County have tested positive for salmonella or rotavirus.
“Early indications from the researchers suggest the rotavirus may be bovine,” states a press release from the DNR. “However, additional analysis is needed to confirm. According to DHS, bovine rotavirus is typically not transmissible to humans.”
In light of the report, state DNR secretary Cathy Stepp released an editorial to local news outlets reassuring residents the department was working to remedy the issue, adding results in Kewaunee are not all that different from other rural areas in the state.
“Preliminary data from the research shows that the nitrate levels in those tested Kewaunee County wells is consistent with statewide averages in agricultural areas and areas without sewers,” she stated.
Public comments to her editorial were not kind. One reader referred to Stepp’s words as “blonde gobbledegook”.
In a proactive move, several dairy operations in Kewaunee and Door counties have joined forces to form Peninsula Pride Farms, an organization aimed at educating farmers about best environmental practices. The group recently held its first field day, attended by more than 60 people. They plan to hold more this summer.
In the coming months, this area will be a key one to watch as environmentalists continue to apply pressure against large-scale farming operations. Clouds are gathering on the horizon and a squall is brewing. Hopefully, it doesn’t turn into a full-blown “sh!t” storm.